He courts success with his hard work


August 12, 2002|By Lisa Breslin | Lisa Breslin,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

A TYPICAL SUMMER day for Finksburg teen Gary Simonette involves getting to Homeland Racquet Club in Brooklandville by 8 a.m., teaching tennis clinics until lunch, stringing rackets during his lunch break, then enjoying his personal court time and tennis lessons that often run from 2:30 p.m. until 8 p.m.

A typical school year for Gary includes at least four national tournaments and multiple local tournaments that pit him against kids who rarely feel the financial squeeze of a sport that can cost as much as $75,000 a year.

But nothing is typical about his tennis ranking.

Gary, who will be a junior this year at Calvert Hall College High School in Towson, has reached the Maryland Interscholastic Athletic Association conference individual final at his position in the past two years, winning at the No. 2 spot in 2001 and losing a tight three-set championship match at No. 1 this year.

He is ranked No. 2 in the United States Tennis Association's Mid-Atlantic Boys' 16 Division, and nationally, he is ranked No. 82 in that age group.

Last week, Gary traveled to Michigan for the USTA Super National Hardcourt Championship at Kalamazoo College. While he didn't do as well as he and his coach, Mike Clark, had hoped (he lost two of the three matches he played), his perseverance and personal ranking are a great source of pride.

"His dedication is unbelievable," said Gary's mother, Letitia. "He passes up opportunities to hang with friends, date and play other sports in order to have time for tennis. If he's not on the court, then he is lifting weights or working with a coach constantly."

Coaches, court time, clinic, travel and equipment costs add up, but Gary has worked out a bartering system to cover most of the expenses.

"You get a lot of stories about kids who do a nice job and they had things handed to them to get there," said Clark. "But Gary has had to suck it up and do everything from stringing rackets to coaching to get where he is. When he gets into college and gets beyond financial limitations, he will blossom."

For Clark and Gary's parents, it's not "if" Gary gets into a Division I school, it's "when."

Like many tennis parents, the Simonettes know college coaches are watching. Coaches from Bucknell, University of Maryland, University of Virginia and Clemson watch but can't approach prospective players as young as age 16. Still, the Simonettes hope that they will notice how Gary stands out off and on the court.

His coaches say the left-hander, a player since age 5, has strong, consistent strokes.

"He's mentally tough, so he can play smart on the court," said Jim Gavin, publisher of Mid-Atlantic Match Point, a magazine that covers tennis in the Maryland, Virginia, D.C. and West Virginia region. "He gets in tough situations and pulls out of them with bold hits from the baseline and solid volleys at the net."

Gary also is a nurturing coach, a responsible employee and, sometimes, a comedian.

Gavin remembers a particular point during a tournament four years ago. "Gary got lobbed and he jumped as high as he could, but the ball eluded him," he said. "He was a shrimpy kid back then, and he hollered at himself, `Dammit, grow Gary!'"

The "grow Gary" story has circulated lovingly ever since - even after he sprouted 9 inches between ages 14 and 15.

Since his return from Kalamazoo, Gary is taking a little time off. He said he plans to get back on the court soon and back on the road to his goal of earning a tennis scholarship.

"It didn't take me long to learn that if you are serious about tennis, you can't just go out and hack around," Gary said. "Natural talent won't get you all the way. You have to be in it for the long haul, through all the ups and downs."

A Living Treasure

West Middle School pupil Tim Repko honors his grandmother, Patricia Piper, as his Living Treasure this week.

"She is my Living Treasure because of her overwhelming desire to do the things she enjoys," writes Tim. "She loves to play cards and other board games. My grandmother also loves to talk on the phone for hours at a time, whether it is to me, my mom, or my aunts, uncles and cousins - she loves to be around her family."

Brighten the day of someone who has made a positive difference in your life.

Send a name and specific reasons why someone has been your living treasure to: Lisa Breslin, 35 Ridge Road, Westminster 21157.

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